Monday, June 27

US jury finds former Boeing 737 Max pilot not guilty in fraud case

A Boeing 737 MAX jet lands following a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) test flight at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington on June 29, 2020.

Jason Redmond | AFP | Getty Images

A jury in Texas on Wednesday found a former chief technical pilot for Boeing accused of deceiving federal regulators evaluating the company’s 737 Max jet not guilty, court records showed.

Former Boeing pilot Mark Forkner was indicted in October on charges of scheming to defraud Boeing’s US-based airline customers to obtain tens of millions of dollars for Boeing.

The government alleged Forkner deceived the Federal Aviation Administration during its evaluation and certification of Boeing’s 737 Max airplane.

Court records and a spokeswoman for the US Attorney’s Office in Northern Texas confirmed Forkner was found not guilty on all counts.

David Gerger, a lawyer for Forkner, in a statement praised the “independent, smart, fair judge and jury.” The FAA and Boeing declined to comment.

Forkner, who had faced up to 20 years in prison on each count, maintained his innocence.

The government had alleged Forkner provided the FAA Aircraft Evaluation Group with “materially false, inaccurate, and incomplete information” about a new part of the flight controls for the Boeing 737 Max, called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).

MCAS was tied to two fatal 737 Max crashes that killed 346 people but the government noted it did not charge Forkner “with causing the crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 or Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302” and did not argue he caused them.

Prosecutors pointed to one message Forkner sent to a colleague in which he said he “basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly)” about MCAS.

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A judge dismissed two fraud counts in February related to MCAS saying the two charges could not proceed because they must involve a tangible airplane part.

Boeing in January 2021 agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion in fines and compensation after reaching a settlement with the US Justice Department over the 737 Max. The deferred prosecution agreement included a fine of $243.6 million and a $500 million crash-victim fund over fraud conspiracy charges related to the plane’s flawed design.

The two crashes cost Boeing more than $20 billion and led to the plane’s 20-month grounding that was lifted in November 2020.

The Justice Department said the crashes “exposed fraudulent and deceptive conduct by employees of one of the world’s leading commercial airplane manufacturers.”

US House Transportation Committee Chair Peter DeFazio said in October that Forkner’s indictment “should not be the end of the accountability for this colossal and tragic failure” and argued “senior leaders throughout Boeing are responsible for the culture of concealment that ultimately led to the 737 Max crashes.”

Forkner is the only person criminally charged to date in connection with the Max.

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